Four stars of “The West Wing” are hitting up Warner Bros. TV and John Wells Prods. for a hefty raise — again.
In a sure sign that contract renegotiation season has begun in TV land, Emmy-winning “West Wing” thesps Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and John Spencer have asked the studio behind the NBC drama to nearly double their respective salaries.
The actors, who currently make $80,000 per episode, appear to be seeking a hike to roughly $150,000 per seg, according to insiders familiar with the situation.
Move comes two years after the foursome banded together and, after threatening to skip work, extracted a new deal from the studio that essentially doubled their respective paydays. Thesps got the raise in exchange for agreeing to extend their deals through the show’s seventh season.
As in 2001, attorney Peter Nelson is once again repping all four actors in the collective renegotiation.
This time, however, there have been no hints that any of the actors have a headache, backache or any other ailment that would prevent them from working. Indeed, all four have been showing up to work since production resumed earlier this month.
And Nelson, who two years ago went on the record to explain the rationale behind the actors’ salary demands, is so far keeping quiet. Studio also declined comment, except to note that all the actors are working are under contract for the next three years.
Exex taken aback
Nonetheless, one insider said WBTV execs seem taken aback by the new demands, particularly given what’s happened to “The West Wing” in the past six months.
Skein’s ratings took a major hit last season, and series creator Aaron Sorkin and exec producer Thomas Schlamme both ankled in May. What’s more, studio execs could be forgiven for thinking they had put the pay issue behind them after the last renegotiation.
But it’s not uncommon for lead actors in hit skeins to seek a raise headed into a show’s fifth season, even if they previously got a raise and are under contract, said one rep familiar with such negotiations.
And despite “Wing’s” slipping ratings, skein remains a massive hit among young adult viewers with incomes over $75,000 — an upscale demo for which advertisers pay a huge premium.
In addition, WBTV earlier this year inked a new license fee deal with NBC that provides the studio with more than $6 million for every episode of “The West Wing.” Old deal for the actors was made when WBTV was still incurring a production deficit on the series; it now makes a handsome profit, thanks to the NBC pact and a syndie sale to Bravo worth more than $1 million per seg.
And with Rob Lowe and Sorkin’s sterling scribemanship both gone, it’s not a huge stretch to argue the four lead actors are more crucial to the series than they were two years ago.
At least one source familiar with the talks said he believes an amicable resolution is possible, noting that WBTV may have already agreed to up the foursome’s per-seg salary to $100,000. The fact that no sickouts have been threatened, and none of the parties involved is speaking, may also indicate progress is possible.
(Michael Fleming contributed to this report.)